December 21, 2009

Reckless Sperm Donor Turns Advocate

Fertility and Babbys, News No Comments

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Kirk Maxey, a 51-year-old Michigan man, estimates that he has sired some 400 children. Considered one of the most prolific donors in the country, Maxey donated sperm twice a week at a Michigan clinic between 1980 and 1994.

He got into it at the incentive of his first wife, a nurse working with infertile couples. Because his sperm had a high success rate, Maxey soon became the “go-to stud” for the clinic where his wife worked.

Back then, Maxey didn’t think about it beyond knowing he was helping people and making around twenty dollars a pop. In retrospect, he feels a lot differently.

Maxey, you see, wasn’t asked to take any genetic tests by the clinic where he donated sperm, or received any psychological screening. What if Maxey’s genes carried a life-threatening disease? Not just that–the clinic didn’t keep extensive records of people using his sperm. Imagine the implications if half-siblings unknowingly married?

For these reasons, Maxey has become a fierce advocate for tighter government regulation of the sperm-donor business. He’s been a member of the Donor Sibling Registry since 2005 and also made his genome public via Harvard’s Personal Genome Project, hoping that the information will make it easy for his offspring to get information about his genetic health status.

According to Newsweek, where the story of Maxey originally ran:

Currently, there are only recommended guidelines put in place by the American Society for Reproductive Medicine that say a donor should be required to provide a complete medical history to rule out “genetic abnormalities” or a family history of inherited disease and should receive proper counseling.

The FDA has guidelines saying that a clinic cannot use a donor with a “relevant communicable disease agent or disease,” but does not require genetic testing. Most banks do not do genetic testing either. Despite these loose attempts at guidelines, sperm banking continues to raise a host of ethical, medical, and financial questions. There’s no social template for donors who are found by their offspring, or even rules about how many children should come from a single donor.

Clinics are now struggling to answer some of these questions. In October, The Journal of the American Medical Association reported that a 23-year-old donor used by a San Francisco sperm bank passed on a potentially deadly genetic heart condition to nine of his 24 offspring, including one who died of heart failure at the age of 2. The sperm bank now gives electrocardiograms to screen for genetic heart diseases among potential donors.

“Statutory rules for genetics tests on donors should be part of FDA guidelines, which should also require that sperm banks follow up on the children to make sure they are healthy,” Maxey told Newsweek. “All I’m really advocating for is the absolute informed consent for the mothers.”

Image by Zen Sutherland. Information via Newsweek.

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